Too much river runs through it

High water from melting snow closes river access to the South Platte, halts diversion dam construction.

April 29, 2016 | By: Jay Adams

Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water.
Denver Water has closed access to the South Platte River in the lower portion of Waterton Canyon due to high water running through the High Line Canal diversion project site.

High water and safety concerns related to the inundated High Line Canal diversion construction project site have closed access to the South Platte River in lower Waterton Canyon.

“The river is running fast right now and we want people to be safe,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation. While the canyon trail will be open on consecutive Sundays, May 1 and May 8, recreationists will only have access to the river in the upper canyon from mile marker 3.2 to Strontia Springs Reservoir at the top of the canyon.

Denver Water expects to open the Waterton Canyon trail seven days a week beginning Sunday, May 15. Ransom said river access in the lower canyon is likely to remain closed until river flows reach a safe level and Denver Water can better evaluate how the project site is responding to the higher flows.

The high water also has postponed construction of the new High Line Canal diversion dam, a replacement for the original dam built between 1880-1883 to divert water from the South Platte River to Denver for agriculture. The wooden structure deteriorated over the years and was damaged beyond repair by high water during the 2015 runoff.

Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.
Crews work on the new High Line Canal diversion dam before high water flooded the site.

Denver Water engineers hoped to have the replacement dam completed by May 1, but they put the project on hold when the river spilled into the construction site after a wet spring. Crews are now cleaning up and securing the dam construction zone.

“This is the challenge of building a dam,” said Doug Raitt, construction project manager. “We all wanted to finish the project before the spring runoff started, but with that big April snowstorm and warm temperatures, the river came up sooner than expected and we had to get out.” Construction is expected to resume in the fall when the river recedes.

Without the dam, Raitt said it will be difficult to send water through the canal this spring, but engineers are looking at a temporary solution to make that feasible.

The lower portion of Waterton Canyon has been closed six days a week since February 2016 for the High Line Canal diversion dam repair work. Look for updates on the canyon throughout the coming weeks on denverwater.org.

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